The London Thames Cable Car / Aerial Tram / Gondola / Whatever

Post by Steven Dale

Alright. I know I complain about the nomenclature issue a lot, but this is getting ridiculous.

Planetizen published the following update on the approved London Thames Cable Car (Gondola):

London Approves Aerial Tram Over River

An aerial gondola system will be built over the Thames River in London ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

“Expected to complete by July 2012, the cable cars would run 50m above the water and, according to Mayor Boris Johnson, would be ‘as good as a bus route with 30 buses on it’.

Johnson, said: ‘With permissions signed and sealed we are now a significant step closer to being able to cruise the east London skyline via an elegant cable car spanning the mighty Thames.'”

Officials estimate that the gondola system will be capable of transporting 2,500 people per hour over the river.

I’m not going to bother breaking it down for people. It’s pretty straightforward. A Gondola is this; an Aerial Tram is this and; a Cable Car is either this or this. They are different. This wasn’t my decision, it’s just the way it’s been for decades.

Gondola, Aerial Tram and Cable Car are not synonyms for the same technology. And every time they’re used as synonyms, it only complicates matters for people who are actually trying to understand the technology.

Planetizen should know better.

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  1. Lift vs. elevator. Do you know what the americans name a truck? A pick-up. Globalization/globalisation. Whatever. But you are right. Are they changing their plans from an MDG towards an aerial tram? That's why I like the german language so much. We have words for everything and very often even a few words for the same thing. And if some things don't have their own word, the name is a "self-describing" combination of what it is - in one word. Love it! =) A gondola for instance is a Seilbahnkabine. While gondolas might confuse with gondolas for instance in Venice or even better just take a look here ( http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gondel ) and then switch to english on the left side ... you'll see what a gondola is. When I started my research in CPT I needed to find the right english words for my german thoughts. It took me some time but I made peace with the use of cable car /cableway/ropeway. Let's face it: it's enough for common people to understand what is meant. As in dialogues between "professionals" I'm pretty sure they are going to use the right terms. A small analysis of the fact that Boris Johnson used two different ways of describing the system in one announciation could bring me to the following explanation. They aren't sure what to say either, but seeing the CPT described, it seems like it is going to be a gondola system, which doesn't run on the river Thames, which ironically would be possible - it goes aerial. “Expected to complete by July 2012, the cable cars would run..." Furthermore it seems like there is a difference between naming the system and naming it's parts. So, we could talk a lot about it and effectively just turning round in circles without getting anywhere or trying to convince people using the "right" form - which I think would lead to an earlier death by the convincing party side and lots of early grey/gray hair. Last sentence: towers aren't really towers <-- this is more a fact than the gondola-cable thing. Think about it! ;)
  2. But a really good spot there with the article, Steven.
  3. Cable car is British English and used for gondolas since decades. To be more precise you will add Aerial cable car or Supported cable car. In German there is the term Seilbahn. Which can be a Luftseilbahn (Gondola or Aerial Tramway) or Standseilbahn (Funicular) .
  4. Just because North America uses a one form of word doesn't mean that the rest of the English-speaking world is wrong! Cable car is standard British English for a transport system using vehicles suspended from a cable, and is perfectly correct in this case; it may not be so in North America, nor used among industry professionals when more precise terminology is required to differentiate different specific systems, but it is correct in plain English. You state that "aerial tram" is the only terminology for that form of system but in the world outside North America a tram runs on rails in the street; in the rest of the world it would be an "aerial cableway" technically, or simply cable car colloquially. Some examples of "cable car" systems which are actually gondola lifts or other cableway technologies- Heights of Abraham Cable Car, UK www.heightsofabraham.com Alton Towers Skyride "cable car", UK Ngong Ping "cable car", Hong Kong http://www.np360.com.hk/html/eng/np360_exp/cablecar_index.html Sentosa "cable car", Singapore http://www.sentosa.com.sg/en/attractions/imbiah-lookout/cable-car/ Aramon "cable car", Spain - http://www.telecabinaaramon.com/english/telecabina/index.php Barcelona - http://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/attractions/cable-car-barcelona.html Table Mountain - while called an Aerial Cableway (not "Aerial Tram"!) it also describes itself as a "cable car" - http://tablemountain.net/about/the_table_mountain_aerial_cableway/ Don't just take my word for it; the Collins English Dictionary 2009 defines "cable car" as: "— noun 1. a cabin suspended from and moved by an overhead cable in a mountain area 2. a cableway 3. a passenger car on a cable railway " So it is not restricted to the third definition of a cable railway as per your examples of Mandalay Bay or San Francisco, but applies also to gondola lifts, aerial tramways, etc.
  5. @ Anthony, I agree with you that the term "cable car" is used throughout the English-speaking world. I also agree that it's a fine term for the general public. They are not, however, proper technically speaking. One of the major problems the cable industry has (as I've seen, observed and researched) is that planners and researchers commonly mistake one mode type for another because of mistaken nomenclature. This means that the statistics and performance-cost packages of one technology are mistakenly applied to another technology. In more than one incident, this has resulted in the technology being disqualified from consideration when it shouldn't have been. So while I agree that we have to accept more vernacular terms, it's essential that people interested in the technology don't confuse them. Does that make sense? I know it's somewhat contradictory, but I think it's really important.
  7. Thanks Hugo, If you're interested in talking further, email us at [ gondola (at) creativeurbanprojects (dot) com ].

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